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Consumers Can Play Their Part With Aphid Problem

Consumers Can Play Their Part With Aphid Problem

The Chief Executive of VegFed, Peter Silcock, said today that while lettuce growers worked on solutions to its major aphid problem, it was important that consumers were aware of how they might deal with aphids.

“The fresh lettuce industry has been fighting the invasion of an aphid (Nasonovia ribisnigri), new to New Zealand since its detection 12 months ago. Our initial focus was on controls to slow or defeat the spread of the aphid and on strategies to combat the pest.

“Despite best management practice, the aphid is now prevalent in all of the major lettuce growing regions, and in indoor and outdoor growing systems. Because of the nature of this aphid, ‘head lettuces’ which grow around a heart of the lettuce are most affected. These are also New Zealand’s most popular lettuces.

“Consumers should be clear that the presence of aphids is a presentation issue, not a health one.

“The aphids can be washed off the lettuce and any stained or speckled leaves easily removed. The lettuce is perfectly safe to eat.

“By taking these simple steps consumers can avoid a situation that could lead to huge increases in the cost of lettuce.

“For growers, the presence of the aphid can be a lottery, with some crops, and some lettuces within a crop, having more aphids than others. Most of the aphids are on the inside of the heads so it is not possible to selectively harvest only heads that have few or no aphids.

“If growers decide not to market lettuces with some aphid presence, lettuce prices will go through the roof, and that is not a good result for anyone. Simple washing of the lettuce will prevent this.”

Mr Silcock said he was seeking consumers’ assistance and patience while the industry looked for effective long-term solutions. Researchers, growers, chemical and seed companies, and VegFed are working on strategies to combat the pest. These include using resistant lettuce varieties, crop monitoring, and the use of insecticides and non-chemical pest management techniques.

The fresh lettuce industry in New Zealand is worth $26 million at retail. The industry is largely a domestic one although there are some exports. Since the appearance of this aphid, lettuce exports to Australia have been suspended.

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